It all comes out in the wash

For several weeks I tried to deny the reality: Del’s cloth diapers – by all evidence, clean and fresh after a wash – the minute he wet or soiled one smelled like a neglected hamster cage.

The master bathroom, where the diaper sprayer and laundry wet bag are, was beginning to smell like you imagine an episode of Hoarders might, if science had ever delivered on Smell-o-Vision.  That is, like angry cats.

I had the dreaded ammonia buildup.

Though I was using Rockin’ Green’s Funk Rock as a prewash, and had tried using more detergent per load, these diapers were stinkin’. So I did some reading. Thank goodness for Google – just a couple of quick searches yeilded a variety of websites and message boards discussing dealing with cloth diaper stink. The message seemed to be: it’s not normal for your diapers to stink; if they do something is wrong in your cleaning routine; there are about a million different suggestions for how to solve this problem.

With all the thousands of babies peeing in hundreds of diapers, and moms using dozens of different detergents in unknown variations of water types – well, you get the picture. Not every solution works for every situation. It seemed, from what I read, that we might have hard water here – which leaves mineral buildup in everything you launder, and also is notoriously bad at rinsing detergent thoroughly from fabric. For cloth diapers, this basically means there’s sticky detergent and minerals inside the fibers of the diaper insert holding in the ammonia from every little pee your baby leaves in there. Diapers look and smell ok coming out of the washer/dryer, but the minute they get another dose of urine, SMACK! Hamster cage stench right between the eyes.

I opted to begin my diaper healing journey with the simplest suggestion: strip them with lots of hot water, and add an extra hot rinse after every wash. I gathered up all but a couple of diapers (needed something for the Rabbit’s butt while the rest washed) and washed just the inserts (not the covers) on hot with detergent. I also used the “Large Load” setting instead of “Small” to make sure there was plenty of water, and ran it on “Heavy Soil” to get lots of agitation. After that detergent wash, I ran four more hot and heavy washes, without detergent. Our hot water is SUPER hot, but if it were not I read suggestions 0f pouring a kettle of boiling water into those extra cycles. Basically, you’re washing the heck out of them, knocking loose and rinsing away every last trace of ammonia, old detergent and minerals hanging around. After those four waster-only washes, I laid all the diapers out in the small patch of sun that our balcony gets, to bleach poo stains and let the sunshine work it’s cleansing magic. Our full-sun is gone within a couple of hours so I tossed the still damp inserts into the dryer after that.

It totally worked. The hamster-cage scent is gone, even in Del’s morning diaper (the one he has been wearing all night). And, happily, the ammonia smell in the bathroom has dissipated entirely now. After about a week of the new wash routine, I seem to be maintaining clean-smelling diapers. YAY!

My new diaper wash routine is as follows:

1) All inserts and covers get a cold, heavy soil, large load, no detergent cycle.

2) All inserts and covers get a warm, heavy soil, large load, with detergent cycle.

3) Remove the diaper covers and hang them to dry (the hot cycle warps the velcro patches!)

4) Run a hot, heavy soil, large load, no detergent cycle to thoroughly rinse the inserts.

5) When I’ve got full sun, sun the inserts before tossing them into the dryer. Otherwise just dry them.

I plan to build into the routine a monthly stripping cycle – just hot rinse the ever-loving heck out of those inserts. This will, hopefully, keep us loving our cloth diapers. Because it sure does feel good to never buy diapers.


8 responses to “It all comes out in the wash

  • thatjen

    Or switch to Tide. We tried different routines and zillions of different soaps/detergents over the years and nothing ever worked until we gave up and tried regular old Tide. We used far less water and energy when using Tide because it didn’t take extra cycles so we figured it was a worthwhile trade environmentally.

    • DragonKat

      Any thoughts in the hard water issue? I am thinking DC’s water is different – at least I never had smell issues till we moved to Maryland. I will consider the Tide but for now I have plenty of GroVia’s Tiny Bubbles detergent, which price-wise is comparable per load.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • thatjen

        I’ve always thought the water was the same all over the region – I think you get water from the same reservoir but maybe not that far north? It’s more likely a different washing machine, I’d guess, than the water being dramatically different. But as babies get older the content of their output changes so that’s a possible factor as well.

    • DragonKat

      Jen, didn’t you tell me once there was a cloth diaper listserv for DC? Know of any local shops selling CD’s? I have been to Greenberries in Columbia (consignment) and gotten a few gently used cloths. Would love a place either closer or more in my usual radius of travel.

      Sent from my iPhone

  • thatjen I thought I’d sent you an invite?

  • seventhacreheaven

    Isn’t it amazing how many solutions there are…you are so lucky to have found the right one the first time!

    • DragonKat

      Yes! There are about a ton of possible problems or problem combinations, and as many solutions. I had a mental list of what I’d try, in order of simplest to most complex!

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